"How do you voluntarily stop the involuntary?"

Updated: May 13

This is the beginning of my new style of blog as I want this space to feel more personal. I'm having an amazing time interviewing some incredibly talented people, but that's not coming from the heart. I think it's my turn to step into the Lion's Den and I want to share my own experiences with mental health, and how I overcome them. On the 27th February 2021, I contacted a page on Instagram, @Mentalhealth_blackandwhite, because I wanted to share a tale of one of my current anxiety issues that I face when doing something that I love, watching live music.

This story begins over twelve-years ago when I was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, in 2009. I was 11. I was scared. In the beginning, I thrived on the attention which comes with the condition and the constant questioning of my involuntary actions: "If you have Tourette's, why don't you swear?"; "Why do you keep flicking your hair?" - You know, the obvious ones? But, as I grew into my teenage years, I began noticing my tics a lot more frequently, and more significantly. The piercing stares of passers by made the simplest of out-goings overwhelming. Immense. The struggles of maintaining composure, even when attending the supermarket, begun to take it's toll on my wellbeing. How do you voluntarily stop the involuntary...?

Attending a public school; I had many friends. The only troubles that I faced were concentrating on work and a bully in year eight, but that's another story. We'll come back to that one. Facing the challenge of concentration is where this story originates. In secondary school, is where my anxiety started to develop. It came about from the fear of being sat in-front of other students, constantly twitching, flicking my head, tensing my neck, and this forced my to worry. Subsequently, diverting my attention to potential whispers, over the education of my teachers. Thoughts shot through my head like bullets from an automatic, machine gun: "freak", "weirdo", "odd". Creating an atypical feel to my educational experience. I submitted to the pressure and decided to resort to arriving to class early and sitting at the back. This strategy provided a temporary substitute to the situation. Out of sight, out of mind. Right? Wrong.

After my "ingenious" idea to segregate myself to the back of the classroom was put into fruition, I felt a sight of relief in knowing that there is no-one behind me that is able to pass ridicule at my condition. It's despicable, yes, but they were kids. It was our generation. Anyway, my plan only generated even more issues as I was unable to hear my teacher. My school, before it's demolition in 2014, was a monument of history in my city, somehow assessed as "a safe environment" for educating children (Even though the roof of our PE building was slowing collapsing... thank you for that). Our classrooms were narrow in width and long in length and, because I had chosen to sit at the back, this created the barrier of hearing. Good job, Dan. Not!

So, I was in quite a kerfuffle. I opted to sit at the front; it being the lesser of two evils.

As I advanced into key stage four, our school was rebuilt in another location. Good riddance to that hell-hole of danger, and Good day to a new utopia of education! Smaller classrooms; brighter designs; even cleaner windows so I could remember that there was a world outside. It appeared that, in my old school, they wanted to eliminate the thought of outside civilisation rather then embrace it. Once again, another story for another time. These new classrooms proved very beneficial for my condition and allowed me to focus more on learning. Bit late now but I think I've turned out okay. I hope - haha. I was able to sit at the back of the class and actually hear my teacher. What a momentous discovery! The only thing that was stopping me now was my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and the difficulty of talking frequently with my friends. I've always wondered why my teachers decided to assign seating plans... I now realise it was because of kids like me. Oops. Sorry, Mrs Wilkinson. OCD is another story that I will dive into, but not now. One problem at a time, haha.

Fast forward a few years to November 16th, 2014, I attend my first, sold-out, live music event. South African, post-grunge band, Seether. What a rollercoaster of an evening and I'd like to tell you why. My first experiences when on route to the venue were a sense of fear. Not only because I was five-foot-six and feared being squashed my moshing lunatics, but because of the evidently ever-growing queue behind us. I remember being a combination of excitement and thinking, "Holy Shit, I'm gonna die." The ongoing challenges that I faced in school had followed me to Birmingham and reeked havoc on my mental stability. I wasn't familiar with my anxiety then and I still believe that I will never fully understand the diverse nature of the condition.

As we entered the venue, me and my father did our traditional race to the merchandise stand, collected our tour tee, and sprinted to the front for our obligatory gig selfie. I know we're sad, you don't need to tell us - haha. Our race to the front was a way to conquer my fear and, subconsciously, sustain the urge to involuntarily twitch. I either have to be right at the front, right at the back, or power through and neglect the strain on my mental health by being in the middle. It is very rare that I resort to the third option, unless there is a mosh pit. That's my only exception because it's hard to think about others judging you when coming face-to-face with a bald, middle-aged behemoth, with no shirt on.

Being at the front of the crowd allows me to focus all my attention on the music. In that moment, the lights go out, the crowd cheers in anticipation, and you hear that first strum of a guitar. Bliss. It's just me and the band. No-one is in front of me. No-one is behind me. It's a state of total euphoria. I can make a complete fool of myself because they feed off of my interaction. In my experience, rock bands generate charisma from fan reactions and, in my case, they feed off my psychotic state of catharsis, when hearing their music.

To me, that 45-60 minute set can do more for my mental health than any prescription medication. Music is my escape. It's pushed me through the hard times, helped create memories, develop lifelong friendships, and allowed me to feel closer with my father. I cherish these memories and will forever keep them close to my heart.

You have to find that inner-peace that allows you to convert times of calamity into bittersweet memories. Discover what your escape is and embrace it. No matter the slander that comes with it. You are you. There is nobody as you as you.

Thank you for reading my story and I hope this is the start of more to come.

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